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Into the Spotlight: 30 players to watch in the Grey Cup Playoffs

Into the Spotlight: 30 players to watch in the Grey Cup Playoffs

TORONTO — It was as if time had frozen, together with all the things else on that snowy, frigid night time at Ottawa’s TD Place final November.

The stadium turned silent as Ricky Ray took the sector, main the Argos’ huddle with the identical actual calm and willpower as another time all through his 16-year profession.

Two weeks in a row the ageless quarterback led late game-winning drives, culminating in a surprising upset within the 105th Gray Cup Championship. A legend was born, Ray’s fourth championship making him one of many biggest quarterbacks the league has ever seen.

These are the Gray Cup Playoffs, the place six groups proceed their six-month journey with one dream in thoughts. The place creativeness turns into actuality, and magical moments stay ceaselessly. Assume Tony Gabriel and ‘the catch’ in 1976, or Dave Ridgeway’s game-winning subject objective for the Riders in 1989.

Two years in the past it was a 42-year-old Henry Burris, overcoming knee damage within the warm-up earlier than starring in an unimaginable underdog story.

New legends might be born this yr, however who? CFL.ca returns with an inventory of the Prime 30 Gamers to Watch within the 2018 Gray Cup Playoffs. An inventory not a lot based mostly on who’s had one of the best common season however who might have the best impression when every little thing is on the road.

Contemplating key storylines, previous performances or thundering expectation, these are merely gamers we shouldn’t flip away from:

 

No kicker within the CFL has been extra automated than Lewis Ward, who hasn’t missed because the season’s opening recreation, setting skilled soccer data alongside the best way. Ward’s subject aim streak gained’t rely within the playoffs, but when the REDBLACKS are in an in depth playoff recreation, all eyes can be on the rookie sensation and his golden leg.

Offensive linemen aren’t going to get a lot play on a ‘gamers to observe’ record, however with matchups towards one or probably two of probably the most imposing defensive front-sevens within the CFL, Stanley Bryant and Jermarcus Hardrick are going to have their arms full all through the playoffs. Bryant and Hardrick are two are the cornerstones of the Bombers’ spectacular O-line.

The manufacturing has been no fluke for Ticats operating again Alex Inexperienced, who’s scored 13 complete touchdowns in 14 profession video games in two CFL seasons. Inexperienced will get the job carried out on the bottom, averaging 5.three yards per try this season, however can also be an integral a part of the Ticats’ passing assault as a daily goal for Jeremiah Masoli. The 30-year-old has an opportunity to make a press release within the coming weeks.

Regardless of not placing up the numbers we’re accustomed to, Greg Ellingson has been as dependable as all the time in 2018, recording his fourth straight 1,000-yard season whereas discovering the top zone 5 occasions. The engineer of one of many largest playoff catches the league has ever seen, which despatched Ottawa to the Gray Cup three years in the past, Ellingson is a positive guess to influence Ottawa’s post-season aspirations.

Hitting 100-plus tackles for the primary time in his profession, Larry Dean has emerged as probably the most dependable linebackers within the three-down recreation. He’s all the time across the soccer and because the Ticats’ offence tries to determine issues out within the absence of Brandon Banks, it’s the defence that should step up if the staff goes to make a deep playoff run.

All the things is about velocity for DeVier Posey, who wanted simply eight minutes to show how shortly he can rating by discovering the top zone 3 times in a essential late-season recreation vs. the Eskimos. The 2017 Gray Cup MVP is the vertical menace the Lions have lacked the final couple of seasons, stretching the sector and offering a chance to attain each time he touches the soccer.

Former school quarterback Nick Marshall has made a seamless transition to defensive again in Regina, intercepting three passes and returning two for touchdowns along with a pressured fumble in his first CFL season. He’s the right match for Chris Jones’ aggressive, hard-hitting defence, and even contributes on the offensive aspect of the ball, sometimes discovering the top zone in short-yardage conditions.

There’s nobody on the Bombers’ offence extra more likely to make an enormous play than Darvin Adams. Winnipeg’s prime receiving choice has 10 touchdowns this season and 9 performs of 30-plus yards, remaining the go-to choice for Matt Nichols — even in an offence that typically favours the bottom assault. Adams has firmly entrenched himself as one of many CFL’s most explosive receivers.

After setting a Canadian receiver report with 116 receptions this season, Brad Sinopoli turns his consideration to profitable a 3rd Gray Cup ring and second with the Ottawa REDBLACKS. Sinopoli is way and away the highest nationwide pass-catcher on the market, a part of the three-headed monster in Ottawa that additionally consists of Greg Ellingson and Diontae Spencer.

Recognized for his robust and fearless operating fashion, Tyrell Sutton has discovered recent legs and new life following a late-season commerce to BC. The 31-year-old has rejuvenated the Lions’ dashing assault, enjoying a essential position in season-saving wins over Edmonton and Calgary. Sutton should be a central determine for Wally Buono’s group, which has struggled to run the ball as an entire in 2018.

The damage to Brandon Banks solely magnifies the worth of Luke Tasker within the Ticats’ offence. Jeremiah Masoli‘s prime safety blanket is the mannequin of consistency, catching 4 or extra passes in 12 of his 15 video games on the best way to his third 1,000-yard season in 4 years. Tasker will get probably the most consideration from opposing defences within the playoffs.

With 100-plus tackles in every of his two full seasons, Alex Singleton continues to set the usual for linebackers within the CFL. The chief of the Stamps’ defence has performed a big position within the group’s defensive success, and is noticeable on virtually each snap he performs. Singleton will make a distinction at one level or one other in the course of the Gray Cup Playoffs.

The human spotlight reel of the CFL performs in Vancouver, as no cross is seemingly out of attain for Bryan Burnham. Circus catches apart, Burnham is the go-to receiver for Travis Lulay, and is considered one of many league’s most dependable pass-catchers, changing on a excessive proportion of his alternatives. He’ll see his share of big-play possibilities because the Lions start their post-season run.

With defensive playmakers like Charleston Hughes, Willie Jefferson and Ed Gainey, the Riders are bending the philosophy that defence alone can’t win you a Gray Cup. When you might have a defensive again like Gainey, who cannot solely erase the opposition’s prime receiver but in addition provide you with an enormous takeaway within the recreation’s defining second, it makes up for the offensive deficiencies fairly simply. Gainey is unquestionably the CFL’s largest playmaker within the secondary.

Micah Johnson makes the Stamps a nightmare to attempt to run the ball towards, but the large man within the center also can get to the quarterback, rating second within the league with 13 sacks. He’s crucial cog in what’s been the CFL’s most persistently dominant defences over the previous few years, but stays one of many league’s most underrated stars.

He turns 35 in December, however Charleston Hughes nonetheless will get it accomplished as one of many CFL’s most dominant pass-rushers. The league’s sack chief with 15 quarterback takedowns types an imposing duo reverse Willie Jefferson, serving to the Riders tie for the CFL lead with 45 sacks on the yr. Whereas he’s cooled off of late, with simply two sacks in his final seven video games, that would solely imply he’s due heading into the post-season.

With Brandon Banks out for the playoffs, Diontae Spencer is probably going probably the most electrifying participant on the top-30 listing. The diminutive receiver/returner is a menace to attain any time he touches the ball, together with his presence on offence creating area for different weapons round him together with Greg Ellingson and Brad Sinopoli. Spencer will get loads of touches because the REDBLACKS pursue a second Gray Cup Championship.

The change of surroundings benefited 33-year-old Odell Willis, whose 11 sacks this season tie the third highest complete of his profession. One of many CFL’s most entertaining and energetic personalities has shaped a powerful cross rush duo reverse Shawn Lemon, serving to the Lions tie for the league lead with 45 sacks. Willis must get to the quarterback for the Lions to have success within the post-season.

William Powell is perhaps the most effective pure runner within the CFL, rating second within the league with 1,362 dashing yards and a 5.Four-yard common per try. He might not get his due within the REDBLACKS’ high-octane passing assault, however Powell’s capability on the bottom balances one of many league’s most effective and productive offences. He’ll be a central determine when Ottawa hosts the Japanese Ultimate with hopes of attending to the Gray Cup.

After many had written him off greater than as soon as, Travis Lulay is wholesome and able to lead the Lions into their cross-country trek within the CFL’s East Division. It’s been seven years since that unimaginable run in 2011, which noticed a younger Lulay engineer an historic mid-season turnaround and seize Gray Cup and MOP honours, however the 35-year-old is aware of what’s required to play at an elite degree and are available by way of when the chips are down.

With a lot area and movement on a CFL subject, it’s uncommon to listen to of a real shutdown nook, the type that may erase a part of the sector for opposing offences. That’s the type of respect Delvin Breaux has, although, as quarterbacks seldom check the area occupied by No. 24. Breaux leads one of many CFL’s stingiest move defences in 2018 and might be a big issue within the Ticats’ hopes of advancing deep within the Gray Cup Playoffs.

Adam Bighill has backed up each little bit of hype in his return to the CFL, placing up all-pro numbers and even rising as a darkish horse candidate for Most Excellent Participant — an award often reserved for the league’s offensive stars. Bighill has been the guts and soul of the Bombers’ defence, racking up 104 tackles, 4 sacks, two interceptions, 4 pressured fumbles and a landing. A menace to opposing offences.

Far and away the CFL’s prime receiver from 2014-2015, Eric Rogers hasn’t been capable of match that manufacturing since his return from the NFL. Nonetheless, he’s flashed the identical means, proving almost inconceivable to cease in one-on-one protection whereas overcoming knee points in his first season again with the Stamps. Together with his group backing into the playoffs, can Rogers return to being the CFL’s most harmful pass-catcher?

As Andrew Harris goes, so go the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The hometown star has been a central a part of the workforce’s offence the final two seasons, putting himself amongst dashing and receiving leaders at his place, within the course of making the Bombers a respectable annual Gray Cup contender. Can the dual-threat again put himself above all of the accolades and carry his workforce to a championship?

Regardless of the playoffs maintain, Jeremiah Masoli‘s 2018 season has seen him take a defining step in his profession, proving he’s a bonafide starter whereas even placing his identify within the combine for Most Excellent Participant. Together with his first true playoff check on the horizon, can Masoli elevate his recreation as soon as once more? With out Brandon Banks, it’s all on the shoulders of No. eight to attempt to seize a Gray Cup for the town of Hamilton.

Many have grown weary of the ‘recreation supervisor’ label positioned on Matt Nichols, however has the Bombers’ quarterback executed something to vary the narrative? With only one recreation of 300-plus passing yards in 2018, Nichols has felt like extra of a byproduct of the Bombers’ success this season. To win a Gray Cup, the 31-year-old will, sooner or later, face an hostile state of affairs and need to put his group on his shoulders and lead it to victory.

Good Zach or Dangerous Zach? It doesn’t typically bode nicely whenever you marvel which model of your quarterback will present up, as has been the case with Zach Collaros in Season 1 in Regina. Typically it’s the Collaros of previous, operating round, improvising, and making huge performs when the sport’s on the road. Different occasions he’s been inaccurate, indecisive and seemingly lacked confidence. Three years after flirting with an MOP-type season, Collaros could possibly be the story of the 2018 Gray Cup Playoffs.

It’s unattainable to tune right into a Riders recreation and never discover No. 7 on the defensive aspect of the ball — that’s how impactful Willie Jefferson has been in his third season on Chris Jones’ group. The Riders’ defensive finish, in tandem with one other pass-rushing celebrity in Charleston Hughes, retains offensive coordinators awake at night time. He’s a continuing disruption and makes performs in all types of the way, from pressures and sacks to a number of pick-sixes.

Bo Levi Mitchell has gained a Gray Cup, Most Excellent Participant, and is the CFL’s all-time wins proportion chief for a beginning quarterback, but the Katy, Texas native goes into the 2018 Gray Cup Playoffs with one thing to show. On the heels of back-to-back Gray Cup losses and, this yr, an injury-ravaged marketing campaign, Mitchell will probably be judged by how he responds to adversity as he seeks Gray Cup No. 2 of his profession.

There’s a sense that Trevor Harris‘ profession within the CFL is about to be outlined. Positive, the REDBLACKS’ pivot has flashed elite degree play at numerous occasions, however there’s a gaping divide between ‘good’ and ‘nice’, and the really nice ones win when it issues most. Together with his workforce one recreation away from the Gray Cup, and there being no clear-cut favorite, it’s time for Harris to stare down his detractors, carry his staff, and etch his identify in greatness.

 

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